I received a copy of Organizing for Your Lifestyle in exchange for my honest review.
Over the past few months, my travel has taught me that minimalism has benefits that extend beyond your own home. I’ve been traveling with three bags since May of this year, and I packed them all with minimalism in mind.
I have one bag for clothes, one for my health essentials (shampoo, conditioner, skincare, vitamins, etc.), and one for my electronics and school essentials. Three bags has been a manageable amount to carry as one person, and they fit all of my essentials for my everyday life.
Before I left on my summer trips, I read Organizing for Your Lifestyle by Jane Stoller for packing inspiration. This was an amazing read that gave me ideas for both my home/dorm organization and for minimalist packing!
One of the challenges this summer was packing for both cold and warm weather in one bag. It was winter in Chile, and very much summer in Costa Rica. At first I was at a loss for how to pack for these two conditions, but Organizing for Your Lifestyle had wardrobe tips to help minimize what you carry and maximize your options.
I was packing for both professional and casual settings, which can definitely be challenging with limited space. However, I learned that packing layers provided many opportunities for mixing and matching. You can see what I ended up packing for my summer journey here!
I have been embracing a minimalist lifestyle since the summer of 2016, and have refined it to suit my lifestyle. As I have mentioned in previous posts, minimalism is about owning only what you use often—not about owning as few items as possible. I’ve found that eliminating excess from my life has allowed me to eliminate emotional weight and to feel more carefree.
Jane Stoller wrote about her own experience with minimalism, in a piece that emphasizes it’s unique embodiment in everyone:
My Minimalist Lifestyle by Jane Stoller
The Japanese have long been the experts on knowing how to have a minimalist dwelling, and Japanese organizing guru Marie Kondo’s best-selling book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up (2014) is a gem for people who want to move toward a less cluttered lifestyle. Kondo places a lot of emphasis on keeping only items that give you joy, and getting rid of everything else. In her book, Kondo argues that it’s important to create a space in your heart for the things that really matter to you, and that it’s important to give thanks for these things—even literally, by talking to the items in your home. This might sound a bit “airy fairy” to some, but I found that Kondo’s insights helped me to really appreciate what I have, while reminding me not to accumulate stuff I don’t need. Kondo also warns against organizing too much, as this can actually create additional things, and additional clutter.
One particularly valuable trick I learned from Kondo was to never keep all the extra buttons you get with the clothes you buy. I used to be very proud of my button collection, which was, of course, meticulously organized. However, I never used even one of the buttons; when I did lose a button, I would usually go to a tailor, and he would put on a new button that matched. But my button collection just kept growing. When I do feel it’s important to keep a button—from an expensive or unique coat or blazer, for example—I sew it on the inside.
De-clutter your space and your life by embracing minimalism. Personally, I don’t take this one to the extreme, but I do try. I recently read a book written by Francine Jay, who describes herself as Miss Minimalist. After reading Jay’s book, I think she’s earned the title. Jay gives simple strategies on how to begin to live a minimalist lifestyle. My favourite idea from Jay’s book involves downsizing by one thing each day, either by donating it, selling it, tossing it, re-gifting, etc. If you do this, by the end of the year, you’ll have de-cluttered an awe-inspiring 365 items. Jay’s minimalist style might be a bit extreme for some; case in point, she states that black is her staple wardrobe colour, and claims she only has 6 pairs of shoes. But her passionate discussion of her process, and her claims about how much lighter she feels after having made the switch to minimalism, may just be enough to convince you to follow her example. The opening of the book is a letter to her “stuff” which, although comical, really compels you to evaluate why our stuff is so important to us. You might even find it a useful exercise to try and write a similar letter to your own stuff. After all, if you can’t explain the benefits of an item to the item itself, it probably needs to go.
To get you started, here are a few things you can get rid of to live a more minimalist lifestyle: books (they take up so much space!), expired toiletries and products you never use, clothes that don’t fit or that you haven’t worn in years, and of course, those extra buttons.
I highly recommend Organizing for Your Lifestyle if you are interested in learning how to embrace a minimalism that helps you get rid of clutter and embrace a more organized lifestyle! You can purchase it from a number of stores, including Amazon!
I am preparing to go abroad again, this time for an entire semester. I am going to implement the same techniques to pack for this journey, and I will post about the final result! J How have you embraced minimalism in your life? Do you have any minimalist travel tips? Share them in the comments below!
©2017 The Wise Willow and Alyssa DeBella. All rights reserved.
This post has not been sponsored. There are affiliate links within this post, which means that I get a percentage of a purchase you make when you click on them. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Thank you for supporting the brands that make The Wise Willow possible! (Also, as always, everything I promote I personally love! 🙂 )
I started watching Lilly Singh (aka Superwoman)’s YouTube videos way back in high school, during my homework breaks. I found her to be an inspiration, someone who was able to make me laugh and relate to her experiences. I followed her progression as a creator over the years, noticing how she grew as a person but always stayed true to the vision she had started with.
At that point in time, I had never thought of myself as a creator. In fact, if there was a project in high school that was described as a creative endeavor I would inwardly panic, thinking I had no creative ability whatsoever. I had always known that my drawing/painting/anything art related skills were far and few, not recognizing that there were other ways to be creative. I had boxed in a definition of creativity, and dismissed myself because I happened to fall outside of those characteristics.
I always love hearing how other creatives started their blogs, channels, and other media because these stories usually have something in common: whether they thought of themselves as creative or not, they recognized this ability and what they can share with the world. As I have said before, I had a lightbulb moment of recognition when I saw a Pinterest post about starting a blog written by the lovely Morgan Timm. It was as if I was seeing myself in a new light, suddenly remembering how much I used to love writing when I was younger. All of the journals, diaries, and short stories that would escape my imagination and leave imprints on the pages of my childhood. How I dreamed of becoming an author one day. All of these feelings came back in a rush, for they had been buried for so long.
I have seen a similar progression in my own creative endeavors from when I started until now. In August I will have been blogging for two years, and I find it difficult to put all that I have learned into words.
When I saw that Lilly had written a book (something I have always dreamed of doing!), I knew that I had to get a copy. I was fortunate enough to stumble across a signed copy, and could barely wait for it to arrive. It came to my campus mailbox this past Monday, and was one of the best ways to start the week. I started reading it with no preconceived notions of what to expect.
Words cannot even describe how I felt as I turned each page. It was almost as if I was hearing the echoes of my own heart. Each vivid page brought my own dream to life, and more than that it made me feel like I wasn’t alone.
To give you some background, I try to put my all into everything that I do and am quite busy as a result. I enjoy putting my best foot forward, but it hasn’t always been an easy journey.
In high school I was quite stressed. Beyond that, my life was void of the creative energy that fills every gap in my life today. I was trapped in the box that I had drawn around myself, committed to living a scholarly life that never tested my creative ability. Lilly describes her own struggle with feeling as though she wasn’t pursuing her passions, and just living a life she thought she was meant to live. Though she experienced this after college, I resonated with the idea completely. I was stuck in my own idea of what my best life was, restricting my own growth.
When I started my blog, I started to erase the box and draw lines in new directions. I journeyed into the unknown, guided by the creative voice that I had subdued for so long. Instead of critiquing all of my creative choices, I embraced them. I made mistakes, I learned, and most of all I loved. The color started to seep back into my world, and I could feel my creativity growing with each day.
Lilly took on creativity as a full-time job, and does an amazing job of balancing it all despite the criticisms that she receives. As a student blogger, it’s common for me to have my motivations questioned. My day is scheduled nearly hour by hour, and I am always reading, writing, working, and creating. There are many who don’t understand why I choose to spend this much time on creativity, but for me it can only be explained by passion. It never feels like work for me, and as I sit here right now typing in the early hours of the morning I feel surrounded by joy and positive energy.
Blogging has allowed me to embrace my true self, and erase the rigid lines I had thought were permanent. There were many creators who inspired me to take this leap, and I can only hope that I inspire others to do the same.
If you haven’t read How to Be a Bawse, I highly recommend that you grab a copy! I read it in one day, and haven’t stopped thinking about it. How have you embraced your creative self?
©2017 The Wise Willow and Alyssa DeBella. All rights reserved.
It has been quite a while since I have done a book review, and I was sent a copy of Szen Zone in exchange for my honest review. I have been looking forward to writing this post, and the life got in the way. From Monday evening until today at 1pm I had a terrible migraine headache, and my productivity was significantly impacted. However, I realized that it was a situation that lead to reflection about how to find positivity among the challenges that we face in our daily lives.
This week is quite busy for me academically and personally, I have a number of larger papers and projects due in my classes and a few personal projects that are in the works. As many of you probably know, I find joy in busyness (but of course, busyness with a purpose). I have been reading Szen Zone for the past few weeks before bed, and it was quite a grounding way to end each of my days regardless of the challenges that I may have faced. If there is anything that I could definitively assert that I took away from this book, it is that we all face similar struggles and that we all have the power to make them something that has a resoundingly positive impact on our lives.
Gary Szenderski summarizes the intention of the book, which I believe is fully realized in its contents: “Although everyone is different and it’s a very individual and sometimes internalized process, the principles in this book can help you establish the context and right frame of mind to embrace and manage change” (viii). As I read through the book, I started to think about ways in which I could use similar strategies in my own life as I come face-to-face with challenges. For example, though the migraine put a significant dent in my productivity levels during an imperative week, it was a chance for me to realize that I needed to prioritize self-care alongside success and that I can’t have one without the other.
In Chapter 2, The Productivity Promise, the concept of time is discussed in a way that really resonated with one of the lessons that I have learned over the past few years: time is valuable, and one of the most important ways to spend it is intentionally. “We all commit time, invest it, waste it, and eventually run out of it. Throughout all of our time, time remains a constant companion…But because it’s free, we sometimes think we can always get more” (59).
Another reflection made within this chapter is making more “being alive” moments, which has also been one of my goals as I continue on my life journey. When I left high school, I realized just how much time I never used to simply be. In college, this perspective changed and I feel as though I am using the time that I have to truly connect with the world around me. My meditation practices have allowed me to connect with something that is all to easy to forget: the miracle of our own breath. My journaling practice allows me to spend time in my own thoughts, productively releasing all of my emotions onto paper in one of my favorite mediums: free-form writing. Spending my “free time” by choosing to exist in the moment has been one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. This feeling was affirmed in this chapter, as I read through the experiences and revelations of others as they also made the conscious decision to live vicariously in each moment.
The act of living in each moment can vary, and in Chapter 4 (Living in the Present) the definition of a moment is provided in a number of contexts: first, a time that arrives from circumstances and situations out of our control. Second, a time that arrives from events that we cater “to our own liking” (96). Knowing that there are two ways to exist in the present moment is one of the first steps for identifying how you can live in that moment. One of the seasons of my life that I have been fortunate enough to experience recently given my college and young-adult experience is the season of becoming: “The process of be-coming or the passing into another better season or chapter in our lives is something to be cherished…your heart orchestrated everything you needed to get you to this point” (97). Being able to identify when we are becoming something else, and entering a new chapter of our lives, is something remarkable. I have been able to experience this change countless times over the past few years, and I am grateful for every opportunity it has brought. The art of becoming is one of the most wonderful things in life, and is something that happens to everyone during the entire duration of their life. There is no time limit on becoming, you always have the power and the desire to become.
In Chapter 7 (Taking Chances), Szenderski discusses the importance of reflecting on the difference that we can make in this world. We all have the capability to make a difference, and we can decide exactly what that difference will be: “It’s all in you and waiting for the right time and place to change a world. You can and will make a difference. You must make a difference, that’s why you’re here” (154). In my own life, I have thought about the difference that I want to make. I have learned that my passions lie in many different areas, ranging from my academic studies of religion and politics, to my pursuits of creative writing and compassionate living. I want to make the world a brighter place for all beings, and to exercise kindness whenever possible. I want to be kind to myself, grow as a person, and help others to do the same.
This book reinforced how I have come to see the world over the past few years, and introduced new ideas that have affirmed many of the beliefs about positive thought that I have developed. I highly recommend this book for anyone looking to learn how to add positivity to all situations, and how to change perspectives and cultivate the positive and loving energy that we all possess. You can purchase a copy of the book here if you’re interested, and if you give it a read I would love to know your thoughts! How do you cultivate positivity and definitive change in your life?
©2017 The Wise Willow and Alyssa DeBella. All rights reserved.
My best friend and I have a very unique holiday gift-giving tradition that has broadened my horizons in the reading world. Every December, one of the gifts that we give to each other is a copy of our favorite book from the entire year. Not only is this a great way to learn about what each person considers an amazing book, but it encourages you to reflect on all that you have read. Figuring out what that person has already read is quite a tedious process (this is where GoodReads saves the day!), however, once you find the perfect book recommendation it is the gift that keeps on giving. I’ve been able to read books that I may not have otherwise considered, and I’ve become interested in many more genres as a result. This year was no exception. I decided to give her a copy of This is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith. This book had such a beautifully crafted plot, and had a very unique writing voice. She gave me a copy of Tell The Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt, which was one that I had not yet heard of. The cover art is stunning, and I was immediately intrigued.
I don’t often have the time to sit down and read a book for hours and hours. However, given that it is winter break, I found myself unable to look away from Tell The Wolves I’m Home. This novel is set in 1987 onward, and follows the Elbus family through their complicated lives. The main narrator, June Elbus, is fourteen years old. June’s best friend (and only friend) is her uncle, Finn Weiss. June’s sister Greta is sixteen, but already a senior in high school. Greta is actively involved in the high school’s theater program, and lives a life full of parties and performances. June’s parents are both accountants, and they work late hours during the tax season. June calls herself a tax season orphan due to the time she spends alone.
Finn happens to be a renowned painter, and decides to paint a portrait of the two sisters as his final goodbye. We learn that Finn has been diagnosed with AIDS, and throughout the novel he faces public and private ridicule. The only person who assigns no judgement is June, and her world becomes unrecognizable upon her uncle’s eventual death. At Finn’s funeral June meets Toby, the man who the rest of the family refuses to associate with. June is able to see past this prejudice, and take control of her grief by talking with the man who misses her uncle as much as she does.
What truly resonated with me is the complex development of the novel’s characters. They are presented with superficial personas at the beginning of the novel, but they transform into intricate people with complicated identities. You feel as though you are a fly on the wall of the Elbus family’s transformation: secrets are revealed and true feelings are announced in a heartbreaking and uplifting alteration.
I was also taken aback by the authenticity of this novel. Each character’s flaws and imperfections announce themselves continuously, but these characteristics do not stunt growth and change. It is a raw story with realistic interactions, and not all days end in resolution. The characters clash as they walk on their own paths of grief, but they always find each other in the end.
I would not have grabbed this book off the shelf initially, but I am grateful that I took the time to read it and contemplate its complex message. This is a book that embraces reality, and is a refreshing read with a good balance of turmoil and hope. I highly recommend this book, and I would love to know your thoughts if you read it!
Now that it is the new year (and my first full year of blogging), my goal is to read and review one book per month.
If you have any suggestions for what I should read and review next, leave me a comment below! 🙂
You can find the book through these sellers:
Amazon (paperback, kindle, and library binding copies available)
Barnes & Noble (paperback, nook, hardcover, and audiobook available)
I would also encourage you to look for a copy at your local book shops and support small businesses! 🙂
©The Wise Willow and Alyssa DeBella. All rights reserved.
Seeing as it is now October, I thought I would review my favorite book from the month of September: Floor 21 by Jason Luthor. As some of you may know, I love dystopian fiction. I am currently taking a college course that discusses the multitude of perspectives through which the famous Hunger Games series can be viewed. Through this course I have learned that the Dystopian genre has a diverse audience, and is often enjoyed by teens and adults alike. Additionally, many books within the Dystopian genre have similar style or plot characteristics, including futuristic settings and climate battles. Occasionally, however, I will stumble upon a book that contributes unique elements to the genre, and Floor 21 was one of these books.
I ran across Floor 21 whilst browsing through the Young Adult category on my Kindle, and was intrigued by its abstract. It read:
“As humanity lives out the remainder of its existence at the top of an isolated apartment tower, young Jackie dares to question Tower Authority and their ban on traveling into the tower’s depths. Intelligent and unyielding, Jackie ventures into the shadows of the floors below. But will her strong will and refusal to be quiet—in a society whose greatest pride is hiding the past—bring understanding of how humanity became trapped in the tower she has always called home, or will it simply be her undoing?” (Goodreads)
The abstract itself does not reveal much about the plot of the book, but instead sparks a curiosity in the mind of the reader. The premise of limiting humanity to one building was a plot element I had not yet come across (more commonly, environmental disaster or technological advancements gone wrong limit the human population to a larger geographical area). The idea of a new society being confined to the walls of one building is almost unfathomable, and as such I knew that I had to learn more.
The book opens from the perspective of Jackie, a teenage girl with a naturally curious conscience. Within the first chapter, Jackie details the daily life of the tower residents: the tower is oriented so that the top floor is Floor 1, and the numbers continue to increase the further down you go. Food and other necessities and luxuries are brought up from the lower floors by a group of people called Scavengers. Nobody is allowed to enter Floor 1, but they all must pass it in order to reach the garden where the crops are grown. Nobody knows how far down the tower goes, but artifacts have been brought up from as far down as Floor 30. The only energy available is solar, and the Before (meaning the history of human events before the existence of the Tower) is taboo to discuss. The lack of discussion causes inner turmoil for our lead narrator, and this conflict creates an intense plot progression for the remainder of the book:
“When I am in this kind of mood, I go to the rooftop and look out. You can actually see other towers rising up in the distance. Some aren’t even that far from ours. I stare at them, and I’m just like…is anybody over there? Is anybody looking back at me? Does anybody know or remember we’re trapped in this place? Or are we all that’s left?”
We also discover why the writing style has such a casual and conversational tone: “Um, Mom told me I should start recording my thoughts when I am in these kinds of moods…because I go nuts thinking about how nobody else cares that we’re trapped here“. We learn that Jackie views society as trapped, and that she is one of the only residents questioning the reality of the situation.
Jackie continues by revealing one of the main dystopian elements of the plot in these preliminary chapters: “Oh, about Floor 12. Yeah, that;s where the Creep really starts. The Creep? It’s this…gunk…and the lower down the Tower you go, the more you see it”. The Creep can sense disturbances in human emotion (it often feeds off of anger and distress), and reacts by causing an infestation. All of the security forces within the Tower are called to control it, while the rest of society questions whether they will finally be overcome.
The disciplinary system of this confined society is also introduced in Recordings 3 and 4. If you are found breaking one of the laws, you are brought in for what is called Reinforcement. Nobody knows what happens in Reinforcement, but those who come out of it are significantly changed. Those who were previously energetic return lethargic and obedient. The society claims that they are put through a strict regimen of training, but Jackie suspects that there are secrets hidden below the surface of these simple explanations.
Eventually, our story switches to the perspective of a Scavenger. We are led through his journey to the lower floors of the Tower, and we experience the thrill and peril of scavenging alongside him. This new perspective provides a jarring contrast to the story that precedes it, which is a unique stylistic element. In most Dystopian fiction, there is an even split between character perspectives and distinctive overlap and interaction. In Floor 21, however, we are thrown into two very different versions of the same world in a manner that emphasizes the uncertainty of their history, present, and future.
Seeing as I do not want to reveal too much about the plot of the book, I thought I would end with my overall impressions. This book managed to take me on an emotional rollercoaster and keep me guessing at every turn. Even though I tried to predict the story’s plot twists, I was never correct in my conjectures. I also found the narrative voice to be very impressively constructed. I am always amazed when an author from a completely different background can immerse themselves entirely in a character so as to create an authentic and dynamic narrative style. In this case, Luthor was able to convey the voice and intentions of a seventeen-year-old girl whose world has been deceiving her in all aspects.
Even if you are not well-versed in or interested in exploring the Dystopian genre, I encourage you to give this book a try. It is unlike many Dystopian books that I have read in the past, and for that reason it has the potential to appeal to readers of all interests. If you do decide to give Floor 21 a read, let me know what you think in the comments! I would also love suggestions for books to read and review!
©The Wise Willow and Alyssa DeBella. All rights reserved.
For this book review, I decided to review the first book in a series by one of my favorite authors: Rick Riordan. You may know him from the Percy Jackson series and the Heroes of Olympus series (reviews on those to come! 🙂 ), but this series explores the secrets of the Egyptian world.
The book is written as an audio recording, and includes frequent side commentaries from the two narrators, siblings Carter and Sadie: “Okay, Sadie is telling me to stop stalling and get on with the story. Fine” (Riordan 2). Carter and Sadie are not typical siblings–they only visit twice per year. Carter travels around the world with his father, and Sadie lives in London with their grandparents. This arrangement was made shortly after the mysterious death of their mother, and they have been living this way for six years. They have very little in common–that is, until their father destroys part of the British Museum.
That night, they discover that their father is the Egyptian Lord Osiris, and the mystery around their mother’s death starts to make sense. Of course, there is a rocky road leading to accepting these unbelievable circumstances, but Carter and Sadie are tasked with preventing The Demon Days and the destruction of the Gods. They must look past their differences and join forces with other magicians to save their world.
This book has incredible character development, as Carter and Sadie must adapt to their new lives. They must work through their flaws and abandon their old realities in the face of danger. Characters that enter their lives are also well-developed and complex. The humor and the detailed nature of the book combine to create a unique read.
This first installment in the series keeps the reader on the edge of their seat, and sets the stage for the next two books in the series. I also learned a considerable amount of Egyptian history through the settings and characters in the series (the glossary at the end helped too!). I highly recommend this book to everyone, and am confident that you will love it as much as I do! Let me know your thoughts in the comments below, and reviews on The Throne of Fire and The Serpent’s Shadow are coming soon! 🙂
©2015 The Wise Willow and Alyssa DeBella. All rights reserved.
Websites to Purchase:
I thought I would begin my book review series with my all-time favorite book. It was not until recently that I decided this is my favorite book (deciding a favorite is much easier said than done! 🙂 ), but I came to realize it was the only book from my late elementary school years that I’ve kept. It is called A Dog’s Life by Ann M. Martin. The back of the book reads:
“Squirrel is not like most dogs. Born a stray, she must make her own way in the world, facing busy highways, changing seasons, and humans both gentle and brutal. Her life story, in her own words, is marked by loss, but also by an inspiring instinct to survive. And when it seems she will roam the woods and country roads alone forever, Squirrel makes two friends who, in very different ways, define her fate”.
To begin, I want to emphasize that even though I read this book in the fourth grade, it is by no means a childish read. It follows the life of a stray dog named Squirrel, from her birth to old age. It is 182 pages long, and is a perfect vacation read.
My favorite aspect of the book is the narration. The story is told from Squirrel’s perspective, and the narration style matures as she ages. The style makes Squirrel a relatable character while still maintaining characteristics of a dog. Throughout the course of her life, Squirrel encounters many faces of humanity: dismissive, cruel, shallow, compassionate, and loving. Each encounter with humans changes her perspective (for better and for worse), making her both curious and wary as time goes on. As the story progresses, you find yourself feeling Squirrel’s frustration as she goes through one dire situation after another. You begin to question the motives of the people she encounters, and you come to share her hesitation. However, despite the fact that she experiences many complicated and dismal situations throughout her life, the ending leaves you with contentment that mirrors that of Squirrel.
Being an owner of previously stray dogs, I have a special connection with this book. I have always wondered about the past lives of my dogs, and reading this book has brought creative stories to my mind. No matter your age, you will love this unique story! To make it as easy as possible for you to purchase my version of the book, I have linked pages to common websites below. If you do decide to read the book, please leave your thoughts about it in the comments below! Also, if you have books to recommend (or any that you would like me to write a review about) I would love to hear them! 🙂 You can also read this review and others on my Goodreads page!
©2015 The Wise Willow and Alyssa DeBella. All rights reserved.
Websites to Purchase the Book: